Will the pools re­main open?

Pro­posal would ban of­fi­cials from clos­ing pools due to drought

The Covington News - - Agriculture & Outdoors - By Greg Bluestein

AT­LANTA — In a bid to keep swim­ming pools in drought-stricken Ge­or­gia open this year, three Repub­li­can law­mak­ers say they’ve found a way to stop en­vi­ron­men­tal of­fi­cials from shut­ting them down.

A mea­sure in­tro­duced Tues­day in both the House and Se­nate would pre­vent the Ge­or­gia En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Di­vi­sion from “in­dis­crim­i­nately” clos­ing swim­ming pools be­cause of the weather con­di­tions, which the bill’s spon­sors said could crip­ple Ge­or­gia’s $150 mil­lion pool in­dus­try.

“I know of no other state where non-elected of­fi­cials have taken such a dras­tic mea­sure,” said Sen. Chip Rogers, R-Wood­stock. “There is ab­so­lutely no ev­i­dence that clos­ing swim­ming pools will no­tice­ably im­pact our drought sit­u­a­tion.”

But it’s un­clear whether the mea­sure could im­pact a fi­nal de­ci­sion on pools, as Gov. Sonny Per­due’s of­fice said he would also help de­cide the fate of Ge­or­gia’s swim­ming pools.

The epic drought forced state of­fi­cials to ban vir­tu­ally all out­door wa­ter­ing in north Ge­or­gia, an edict that could also re­strict home­own­ers and com­mu­ni­ties from fill­ing up their out­door pools.

EPD Di­rec­tor Carol Couch’s of­fice did not have an im­me­di­ate com­ment. But Couch said last week she’s study­ing ways to give res­i­dents more flex­i­bil­ity and plans to hand Per­due a rec­om­men­da­tion soon ad­dress­ing swim­ming pools.

She said she was con­cerned by fore­casts that say the drought could con­tinue through the sum­mer, and said care­ful study is needed be­fore she agrees to re­lax re­stric­tions.

Res­i­dents in boom­ing north Ge­or­gia are anx­iously wait­ing for Per­due’s de­ci­sion.

Tens of thou­sands of swim­mers are plan­ning to sign up for swim leagues, and life­guards, swim in­struc­tors and pool man­agers are ea­ger to see whether they will have jobs.

Sen. John Wiles, who cospon­sored the bill, said sub­ur­ban Cobb County alone has about 70 swim leagues with more than 7,500 mem­bers. “The eco­nomic and so­cial im­pact of clos­ing all swim­ming pools would be dev­as­tat­ing,” he said.

Couch’s of­fice did not have an im­me­di­ate com­ment.

Per­due spokesman Bert Brant­ley said the state is “con­stantly eval­u­at­ing” its re­sponse to the his­toric drought.

“We are hope­ful the rains will come and lift us out of the need for out­door wa­ter­ing re­stric­tions, but we also have to be mind­ful of the dry weather fore­casted for this spring and sum­mer,” he said.

The law­mak­ers, though, seemed ea­ger to send their own mes­sage.

Sen. Jud­son Hill, a Ma­ri­etta Repub­li­can who also spon­sored the bill, said that en­vi­ron­men­tal of­fi­cials would be “over­reach­ing” if they shut down neigh­bor­hood pools.

“When bu­reau­crats wield power in such a man­ner,” he said, “then elected of­fi­cials have no choice but to step in and stop the mad­ness.”

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